In a new memoir, the ex-wife of Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee describes him as an emotionally absent husband, a relentless schmoozer and a man who revels in public adulation.
Constance Baumgardner Gee says in the 351-page book that during their relationship, Gee often made decisions without consulting her — such as getting a vasectomy while they were dating. And after 13 years of marriage, he “strong-armed” her into divorcing him, she claims.
Still, she dedicates the book to her mother and her ex-husband. After reading the book, Gee released the following statement: “She writes with grace, humor and honesty. The book does focus on the tragedy and triumph of our time together and the struggles we faced in the intense crucible of public life. Through it all we have managed to maintain our friendship and respect for each other.”
Baumgardner Gee gives a behind-the-scenes look at the workload and lifestyle of one of America’s highest-profile university presidents as he moved from Ohio State to higher-paying gigs at Brown University and Vanderbilt University and then back to OSU.
The couple met in September 1993 at a new faculty reception hosted by Gee, who was in the middle of his first turn as president of Ohio State. In February 1994, they started dating, and by November 1994 they were married.
Immediately, Baumgardner Gee chafed at the public glare that comes with being a university president’s wife, earning the nickname “Dragon of Drexel” from the OSU residence staff who served her, and clashing mightily with Gee’s only child, his daughter Rebekah.
Toward the end of their marriage, she embarrassed Gee on a national scale when the Wall Street Journal published an article in September 2006 that revealed she smoked marijuana at the Vanderbilt University chancellor’s residence. Baumgardner Gee doesn’t deny smoking pot. In fact, the book is called “Higher Education Marijuana at the Mansion,” but says she did so to relieve nausea and vertigo caused by Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear ailment.
That front-page story prompted Ohio State powerbrokers to immediately begin courting Gee to return to Columbus, she writes, and the couple began divorce proceedings not long afterward.
“We met and fell in love at Ohio State, moved to Brown and then on to Vanderbilt,” she says in the book. “Now he was returning to Ohio State, and I was being left on the roadside like a greasy taco wrapper.”
Gee’s first wife, Elizabeth, died of breast cancer when their daughter Rebekah was 16, and Baumgardner Gee and Rebekah, now an obstetrician-gynecologist at Louisiana State University, had a strained relationship from the get-go.
She said she was “seriously depressed” during the marriage, and also jealous of the universities her husband served.
“The university was his true love,” she writes. “Or maybe it boiled down to self-love – so completely did Gordon merge his own identity with that of the university he served. Whatever the case, it was I who had become the jealous mistress.”
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